Brief introduction to EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a therapeutic intervention that tends to be effective in bringing relief to individuals with various mental health conditions. It is best known for addressing PTSD but is applied in therapy for various other concerns. There is much research backing its success.

1. How EMDR works (It is beyond the scope of this brief explanation to delve into the parts of the brain that are involved.)

EMDR includes revisiting past troublesome memories that an individual did not have the capability to fully process at the time of the event. This lack of processing of the information causes the image, thoughts, feelings to be frozen or stuck in the nervous system. When triggering events occur in the present, the stuck information subconsciously resurfaces, resulting in unpleasant emotions and difficulty in functioning.

The solution offered by EMDR involves stimulating both sides of the brain. This is referred to as bilateral stimulation and can be achieved through moving eyes back and forth, tapping on alternating sides of body or listening to auditory signals. Bilateral stimulation is repeatedly applied while being guided by the therapist back through the traumatic event and the various components. After each bilateral stimulation, the client reports any change in thought, feeling, body sensation or image that is experienced. The stimulation and client\’s feedback of experience is repeated until therapist observes indicators that memory has been reprocessed. The end result of the EMDR process (when effective) is being able to function better and be less disturbed by one\’s past. A typical experience can be the gain of meaningful insight that often is much harder to obtain through other types of therapy.

EMDR addresses the past, present and future. The past is explored for the purpose of identifying the origin of present distress. The present is addressed in the search for triggers. Time is spent preparing the client to better handle triggers in the future.

EMDR involves a cognitive component. Through the process, the client is guided to move to a more positive self-evaluation of the event. As briefly mentioned above, some of the original information is trapped in the body, so the process includes awareness and alleviation of physical symptoms (body tension).

Significant time is spent in preparing the client with calming/soothing skills to help in ability to handle any distress experience in and between EMDR sessions. Time is spent at the end of each session to ensure client stability.

2. What not to expect from EMDR

  • EMDR is not hypnosis.
  • One does not lose or forget the troubling memories.
  • The approach involves little work to be done in between sessions.
  • It does not require in-depth processing of the trauma/troubling incident.
  • It is not something that can be completed in 1-2 sessions. Although it tends to bring on results more rapidly, it has various phases that need to be worked through.
  • It does not create 180-degree changes. It is not realistic to expect a client to move from intense negative emotions about the event to intense positive feelings. The goal is peace and neutral responses.
  • EMDR is not typically used as a stand-alone approach. It is often used in conjunction with other types of therapy (cognitive-behavioral, DBT).